Network Advisor Spotlight: Mohannad El-Khairy, E11 Capital
Silicon Foundry’s Network Advisors are a distributed network of hyper-connected founders, investors, and cross-industry leaders who are part of our extended Silicon Foundry family. This handpicked group of advisors, who are embedded in innovation hubs across the world, amplify our visibility across the landscape, extend our global network, and serve as resident experts for our Members.
Mohannad El-Khairy (@MohannadKhairy) is the Managing Partner of E11 Capital, a global venture capital firm based in both San Francisco and the Emirates. Mohannad began his career in institutional sales before moving to Dubai to help build Zawya.com, a MENA-focused BI and market data company that became known as the “Bloomberg of the Middle East.” In 2011, Mohannad formed NXT Innovation, a global innovation consulting firm brokering the adoption of technology solutions between Fortune 500 companies, governments and startups. Throughout his career, Mohannad has advised on boards and supported several startups and non-profit organizations.
Let’s start with your background: you speak four languages, grew up in Montréal, have Palestinian origins, and have worked around the world. How has this global background influenced your entrepreneurial path and led you to what you’re doing now?
Indeed, my international background has had a tremendous influence because it has taught me how to understand different cultures, perspectives and motivations. I’ve been told several times that I should have been a diplomat. I can see that because cross-border investing and deployment of technologies not only requires the ability to create win-win outcomes, but also understanding different perspectives.
You are a veteran in corporate innovation turned investor. Is there a common thread between your work at NXT Innovation and E11 Capital?
Absolutely. NXT Innovation was focused on de-risking the adoption of technology solutions for Fortune 500 companies around the world. As these solutions began impacting our corporate clients’ bottom lines, some of them asked whether they could invest in them. Some work at E11 and NXT is pretty much the same. The only difference is that the E11 fund can invest in outputted value created by NXT’s consulting model.
Are there any specific superpowers you’ve picked up from these past lives, especially ones that have helped with identifying synergies between startups and corporates?
I love working at a global scale. In some circles I’ve earned the nickname “Mr. International”, especially with the startup community. Another thing I’ve been particularly good at is business model innovation for corporates, particularly when it comes to digital transformation and engaging startups. Disruption through collaboration has been a term I’ve coined in many of my dealings.
You helped build Zawya.com, a trusted business and financial news source in the Middle East. What advice would you give to investors or founders looking to engage with the Middle East?
When we built Zawya, I quickly learned how beautifully diverse, non-homogeneous and forward-thinking the business community is in the MENA region.
My advice would be: Do not sell to the region. Partner with it. The Middle East business community thrives on building relationships based on respect, humility and mutual understanding, all of which build trust. It’s not always as fast-paced or ‘transactional’ as North America. If you’re going there because you view the region as just one big dollar sign, folks there will quickly sense that, and it will become an uphill battle doing business there.
As startups begin to work with corporates in many innovative ways beyond CVCs, what is your outlook for the future of business development?
As technology becomes more and more of a commodity, there will be more emphasis placed on business model innovation. I view this as the art of enhancing value creation by making simultaneous and mutually supportive changes both to an organization’s value proposition to customers and to its underlying operating model to remain relevant going forward.